This is the seventh in an eight part series of articles on issues of War or Peace.
Yes, you are right. Technically there were two Bushes and two Bush wars. But, if you read my last piece, you may remember my thesis: the first Bush war was the beginning of permanent war. So everything that has come since is just more of the same, the perpetuation of the hell on Earth that is the US warfare state.
Most people probably recall Bush War II so I don’t feel obligated to say too much about it. But I suspect that many have forgotten or were never aware of what transpired between the two “formal” Bush wars. This was the interregnum when Bill Clinton occupied the White House. What was wreaked on wretched Iraq during this period was equally vile and vicious, if not more so.
Let’s try to imagine the plight of Iraq around 2000 to 2002, the period just before the second war. The country had already been devastated a decade earlier, by a US war that deliberately targeted the civilian infrastructure. Throughout the 90s, Iraq was under constant siege from US-UN sanctions and nearly daily bombing by US and British forces. About 60 percent of the country was in a “no-fly” zone.
By early 1996, about five years after the first war supposedly “ended,” daily living conditions in Iraq were extremely dire for all but the rich. UN agencies and Harvard University researchers who had visited the country reported, in the journal of the British Medical Society, that water and sanitation systems damaged by US air attacks during the war had continued to deteriorate. Hospitals were functioning at only 40 percent of capacity and about a fifth of the population was subsisting solely on government rations.
A newsletter in my files from 1997, written by activists in northern Wisconsin, includes an interview by Larry Dodge with Mike Miles. Mike is a peace activist at the Anathoth Community Farm in Luck, Wisconsin. He had just returned from a trip to Iraq with the Voices in the Wilderness peace group. In the interview, he described what it was like when he first entered Baghdad after driving 600 miles across a desert from Jordan:
What hit me was the terrible smell of raw sewage in pools and running in the streets. Wastewater and sewage pumps and water treatment plants and piping across this city of four million were destroyed. The systematic 42 days of US bombing deliberately knocked out 85 percent of Iraq’s infrastructure: electricity- generating plants, highways, bridges, airports, irrigation canals and pumps, hospitals, schools and industrial capability. People came with pails and bottles for drinking water to the water pumps still working. Some are situated next to raw sewage ponds.
Miles explained that, because the sanctions even prohibited parts for sewage and water system repair, as well as chlorine for water treatment, the disease impact was monstrous, particularly for the millions of malnourished children. Fifty percent of rural people had no access to potable water and epidemics of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis and cholera swept the country.
The sanctions have become a terrorist weapon of mass destruction.
A few years after Mike Miles visited Iraq, Thomas Nagy, a Holocaust survivor and business professor at George Washington University, uncovered government documents that proved the US used sanctions to destroy Iraq’s water supply. He charged that “the United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would pay” but pursued this genocidal policy anyway.
Writing in The Progressive in September, 2001, Nagy cited six documents drafted by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) ten years earlier which predicted in detail how the sanctions and coalition bombing would gradually destroy the country’s water supply and result in massive disease outbreaks.
“With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations Sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease,” read one of the documents, dated January 22, 1991.
Food and medicine would also be affected, the same document stated. “Food processing, electronic, and, particularly, pharmaceutical plants require extremely pure water that is free from biological contaminants,” it said. Another document with the same date was even more candid in its predictions: “Increased incidence of diseases will be attributable to degradation of normal preventive medicine, waste disposal, water purification/distribution, electricity, and decreased ability to control disease outbreaks. Any urban area in Iraq that has received infrastructure damage will have similar problems.”
Several of the documents itemized all the diseases likely to occur. The list included acute diarrhea, typhoid, cholera, influenza, diphtheria and meningitis. Midway through the year, a heavily redacted document revealed that the DIA had sent a source to Iraq to ascertain how the agency’s rosy predictions were faring. According to Nagy, the source observed that the “Iraqi medical system was in considerable disarray, medical facilities had been extensively looted, and almost all medicines were in critically short supply.” At least 80 percent of the residents of one refugee camp had diarrhea and cholera, and hepatitis type B and measles had broken out. A protein deficiency disease was observed in the country “for the first time” and “gastroenteritis was killing children … In the south, 80 percent of the deaths were children.”
Nagy pointed out that the Geneva Convention, in a 1979 protocol relating to protection of victims of international armed conflicts, states: “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population.”
“But that is exactly what the US government did, with malice aforethought,” Nagy wrote. “The sanctions, imposed for a decade largely at the insistence of the United States, constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention.”
In a presentation I attended in 2001 by two peace activists with Voices in the Wilderness, they noted that Iraq had once been nearly “a first-world country,” where life-long health care was free for all people and education was free from first grade through college. Now, they said, 3,000 children were dying each month. The largest dinar note, that used to be worth $750 US dollars, was worth about 14 cents. Doctors were earning $8 to $12 per month.
Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill reported, in the December 2000 issue of The Progressive, that most professionals in Iraq were earning $5 to $10 per month and were driving the family car as a taxi to make ends meet. Gas was cheap. A gallon cost less than five cents, while a liter of clean drinking water was a quarter.
“Our oil is like our damnation,” Scahill quoted a university professor in the oil-rich city of Basra as saying. “It will never bring us health and happiness as long as we have the US government and its so-called interests here,” he said.
Iraq and Iran have the largest reserves of unexploited oil and natural gas in the world, according to historian and novelist James Carroll. Forty percent of the world’s exported oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, he noted in House of War, his massive 2006 study of the Pentagon and the US warfare state.
“Despite devastating US-led economic sanctions, Iraq’s stature as a global oil giant endures,” Scahill wrote in his 2001 piece. Although its industry was in tatters, he reported, Iraq was still cranking out three million barrels of oil per day. Under the oil-for-food program, Iraq could produce and sell an unlimited amount of oil but did not control the revenue from its sale.
The oil revenues were put into an account controlled by a highly politicized UN committee, Scahill explained. Iraq had to apply for permission to use the funds to purchase goods and services on the world market. The US and Britain regularly blocked the importation of goods that included pencils, chlorine and ambulances.
“Ultimately, the sanctions prevent Baghdad from carrying out any significant restoration of facilities damaged or destroyed by a decade of consistent US bombing,” Scahill wrote. “The prohibitions on importing spare parts or new machinery and equipment have largely blocked Iraq from producing oil at a level even remotely close to its projected capacity … Iraq’s proven oil reserves total more than 112 billion barrels. Potential reserves are estimated at more than 200 billion barrels.”
Scahill quoted the director general for planning at the Iraqi Oil Ministry as saying: “If you control the Iraqi oil, you are halfway there to controlling the world oil. And with your substantial hold on the Saudi fields, then you are in complete control of oil supplies for a long time to come.”
The New York Times reported near the end of 1995 that at least 576,000 Iraqi children had died since the end of the war due to the sanctions imposed by the UN and US. Mortality rates for children under five tripled during Bush War I and had increased fivefold by 1995.
Chuck Quilty, a peace activist in Rock Island, Illinois and a Catholic Worker associated with Voices in the Wilderness (VITW), noted that it was the first time in history that a country was prohibited from buying and importing any food or medicine. “The sanctions have become a terrorist weapon of mass destruction,” he wrote in early 1996.
Throughout the deadly decade between the two Gulf wars, Voices in the Wilderness and members of the Catholic Worker movement made many trips to Iraq, bringing with them medical relief supplies in deliberate violation of the sanctions. Much of this work of courageous resistance was documented in the Kansas-based National Catholic Reporter (NCR).
“The children are dying, more than 4,500 a month under the age of five,” Kathy Kelly of VITW told NCR several months after returning from Iraq in 1997, citing UN statistics. “What we are doing is waging biological warfare against a civilian population,” she said. Malnutrition and water-borne diseases like cholera and typhus were rampant, she reported, with the youngest, oldest and poorest people most vulnerable. The unemployment rate was estimated at 85 percent.
An August, 1999 article in NCR focused on a United Nations Children’s Fund report that revealed Iraqi children under five years old were dying at more than twice the rate they had a decade earlier. At the same time, the New York Times reported that, so far that year, forces bombing Iraq had flown “two-thirds as many missions as NATO pilots flew over Yugoslavia in 78 days of around-the-clock war there.” In other words, Clinton’s war in Iraq was just as nasty as his war in the Balkans, although most Americans probably associated him more with sexual impropriety than with bombing the hell out of countries in two different parts of the world. Such is American politics and American political consciousness.
The NCR story quoted a Catholic Worker, Christopher Allen-Doucot, from Hartford, Connecticut who had arrived in Iraq with a VITW delegation two days after US warplanes bombed two sites around Najaf, about 150 miles south of Baghdad. He said the bombing killed 13 civilians and seriously injured 18 others. One of the wounded, Hassan Muan, was a six-year-old boy who lost his right arm when hit by shrapnel. Looking at the photo taken by Doucot of this youngster lying in his hospital bed, I find it hard to imagine that he could have posed a threat to the most powerful nation on earth.
The boy’s father had asked: “Why does America bomb us? We are not criminals.” Does anyone have a good answer to that simple question?
In the summer of 2000, Tom Heinen, then a religion editor with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and now the director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, visited Iraq with Kathy Kelly, Dr. Waleed Najeeb and Tom Seery, a staff person with Peace Action Wisconsin who had formerly served in the Wisconsin State Legislature. The delegation met with church leaders, Iraqi and UN officials, and visited hospitals and clinics in Baghdad and Basra. They brought with them medicine, medical supplies, and even medical books and journals also banned by the sanctions.
On their visits to the hospitals and clinics, they talked with health professionals and learned of case after case of children who had died for lack of antibiotics, medicine or spare parts for medical equipment. “Before the Gulf War, Iraq was a middle class country and their medical facilities were the best in the Middle East,” Seery wrote in the Peace Action newsletter. “Their doctors, some of whom were trained in the US, had received the best knowledge and training, and then taught in their medical colleges. The doctors we met knew their medicine. They just could not implement what they knew because of the sanctions.”
A little later in 2000, one of the same hospitals in Basra was visited by Hartford Courant journalist Mathew Hay Brown. His resulting article was published in NCR. It’s just after midnight when the story starts. Dr. Faris Abdul Abbas, the chief resident at Basra Maternity and Pediatrics Hospital, has an ethical dilemma. He must choose whether to save the life of a 30-year-old woman who suffered a cervical tear during childbirth or Nawris Khatan, a four-year-old girl who has arrived at the trauma center in cardiac arrest.
The cherubic little girl, severely anemic, is a favorite of the hospital staff. Her parents have been “scouring the hospitals and blood banks of Iraq’s second-largest city for more than a week in search of blood for her monthly transfusion,” with no luck.
The woman and girl both need the same type of blood and they both need it immediately. But plastic blood bags are scarce under the sanctions and the hospital has canceled all elective surgery months ago. The hospital blood bank has just one unit of the blood left, barely enough for one patient.
“Abbas will decide who will live and who will die,” Brown wrote.
“The 33-year-old physician walks the darkened hallway to the trauma center. He will not tell Naris’ young parents that he is giving the blood to the woman, an otherwise healthy mother of three. Instead, he tells them there is no blood, and asks them to pray with him. Fighting back tears, he begs God to spare the child until morning, when some blood might become available.
“Back in his office, Abbas lays his head on his desk and cries. Dawn is still distant when Nawris dies.”
Like all those who came here before him, this writer provides a litany of all “the curable diseases burgeoning amid the wreckage of war. Dysentery and gastroenteritis are epidemic.” There is chronic malnutrition, pneumonia, bronchitis and other infections. Polio and meningitis are making comebacks and cholera and typhoid are thriving.
“Before 1991, these problems were out of our minds,” said Dr. Ali Faisal Jawad, president of the hospital. “We have had to go back to the textbooks to learn how we should treat them.”
“I do not think Americans would accept this for their children,” Jawad told the reporter. “What is the difference between a sick American child and a sick Iraqi child?”
The answer, unfortunately, is: all the difference in the world.
“Basra, wedged between Iran and Kuwait, bore the brunt of the gulf war,” Brown explained. “Now it is bearing the brunt of the embargo.”
“Sanctions have kept the city from repairing sanitation facilities and power plants bombed during Operation Desert Storm. Now the canals that made this port the Venice of the Middle East bubble green with raw sewage. The public water supply is contaminated with human waste. Electricity flickers off for hours every day, leaving precious goods and medicine to spoil in the desert heat. There are not enough trucks to haul away the garbage that rots in the streets,” wrote Brown.
Yes, there were a few people who spoke out besides the peace activists, but it was too little, too late. As NCR noted, Hans von Sponeck, a German and the person in charge of administering the Oil-for-Food program, quit his job as an act of resistance. Sponeck – the top UN official in Iraq – came to the US at the invitation of Voices in the Wilderness in late 2001, soon after 9/11.
“A World Trade Center incident happens every month in Iraq,” he told one audience, noting that 5,000 children died each month from disease and malnutrition. The UN estimated that more than one million people died during the decade of sanctions, and more than half a million were children. (Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter observed in 2002 that the sanctions took more lives than all the weapons of mass destruction ever used in war.)
Sponeck’s predecessor, Irish-born Denis Halliday, had also resigned in protest. Before leaving his post, Halliday told a London newspaper that humanitarian aid to Iraq was “only Band-Aid stuff.” When he left, he said: “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.”
▪ ▪ ▪
Then came Bush War II. A sane person (or a somewhat sane foreign policy) might have asked: What more could possibly be done to inflict mortal damage on a country and its people than had already been done? First there was Bush Sr. and what I call the beginning of the endless war, a war waged with a merciless savagery that was almost incomprehensible. Then came Bill and Hillary, enamored by so many liberals for their shameless rhetoric about how “it takes a village to raise a child” while they were implementing a policy of systematic genocide against all the children of Iraq. (Destroy the villages, and the cities too, and you don’t need to worry about raising the children. Problem solved.)
Finally came Bush Junior and “Shock and Awe.” It was a spectacle, and the mass media obliged by treating it as such. Spectacle, as in: an eye-catching or dramatic public display. As in: spectator sport.
As John Burns recollected in the New York Times on the fifth anniversary of the event in 2008, it was “a mesmerizing display of American might.” Some “Western journalists had grandstand seats for the big event” and were not disappointed.
“For 40 minutes, followed by a break, and then another 40 minutes, a fusillade of missiles and bombs struck palaces, military complexes, intelligence buildings, the heart of Saddam Hussein’s years of murderous tyranny,” Burns wrote.
From their front-row seats on a hotel roof across the Tigris River from the military targets, the journalists watched, transfixed, “the air show – the sheer, astonishing, overwhelming demonstration of power, more like an act of God than man, unleashing in those watching from the roof something approaching awe.”
But within a few weeks, Burns admitted, the awe and fascination with American military power gave way to feelings of misgiving, even among the gullible journalists. Burns and Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker observed how mobs looted palaces and torture centers, along with museums, ministries and hospitals, while American troops stood by. The only building the Marines protected was the oil ministry.
On the 15th anniversary of “the spectacle,” a reporter in The Atlantic summed up the war in one succinct paragraph:
Fifteen years ago, the bombs started falling on Baghdad, US war planners had hoped a campaign of “shock and awe” would expedite the conflict, demoralize the Iraqi forces, and speed up their surrender. While the initial overthrow of Saddam Hussein was relatively quick, the Iraq War itself was anything but. For nearly nine years, occupying coalition troops tried to work with Iraqis to secure and rebuild in the face of mistrust, poor post-invasion planning, US mismanagement of defeated forces, insurgent rebellions, eruptions of sectarian violence, and serious self-inflicted issues like the inability to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (the main pretext for invasion), and the scandalous abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. The Iraq War caused more than 150,000 deaths, cost trillions of dollars, and its repercussions continue to have strong effects on the region, on foreign policy, and on thousands of families to this day.
Nat Perry, writing for Consortiumnews, also on the 15th anniversary of the invasion, summarized the cost of the war in American lives lost (5,000 killed and 100,000 wounded), Iraqi lives lost (hundreds of thousands), and four million refugees, along with a financial cost to US taxpayers of upwards of a trillion dollars.
“The accumulated evil of the whole is difficult to comprehend,” he added. “As staggering as those numbers may be, they don’t come close to describing the true cost of the war, or the magnitude of the crime that was committed by launching it … Besides the cost in blood and treasure, the cost to basic principles of international justice, long-term geopolitical stability, and the impacts on the US political system are equally profound.”
On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, British documentary filmmaker Richard Sanders argued that the initial assault may have appeared efficient and overwhelming, but that the reality on the ground was very different. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, a national British paper published in London, Sanders described how young Marines approached Baghdad from the south at the start of the ground war.
As Marines stormed a bridge over the Diyala River, they shot indiscriminately at Iraqi civilians attempting to flee the city. While journalists and photographers accompanying the Marines pleaded with them to hold their fire, they killed about 15 civilians in this initial assault, including an elderly pedestrian walking with a cane. “Iraq Body Count, the most authoritative collator of casualty statistics in Iraq, estimated that 6,716 civilians died during the initial invasion – an average of 320 per day,” Sanders noted.
It took just three weeks to topple the regime in Baghdad, establishing the myth that the initial invasion was a success. But Sanders contended that “the origins of the Iraqi tragedy were all too visible during those first three weeks.” For the first Gulf War in 1991, the US assembled a coalition force of close to a million troops to invade Kuwait, he pointed out, but for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, coalition forces numbered fewer than 200,000. The 1991 invasion was preceded by a 40-day air campaign but there was virtually no air campaign in the latter war.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative allies were convinced a “New American Century” was dawning and they didn’t need “to spend six months assembling a colossal invasion force every time Washington felt the need to impose its will around the world,” Sanders said. They believed the invasion and occupation of Iraq would be easy and that the arrival of US troops would trigger an uprising and the troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis. They were mistaken.
“The invasion of Iraq was an operation lacking intelligence in every sense of the word,” Sanders noted. He listed a number of blunders and miscalculations on the part of the American offensive including:
- “Losing” three entire divisions of the Republican Guard, around 300,000 soldiers.
- The thwarting of the US “multi-billion dollar array of hi-tech surveillance” through the Iraqis simple tactic of parking their tanks under palm trees.
- The expectation that there would be a mass surrender of the Iraqi military, when what in fact happened was that the bulk of soldiers, including much of the Republican Guard, simply deserted.
Rumsfeld was right, Sanders said. The modest invasion force was sufficient to conquer Iraq, it just wasn’t adequate for the peace. The “American fantasy that the Iraqi state would continue to function and would pick up the pieces the day after Baghdad fell proved entirely unfounded,” said Sanders. “With the head removed, the Iraqi body politic simply dissolved.” General William Wallace, an American commander, put it succinctly: “There was nobody to receive the surrender from. We couldn’t find them. They weren’t there.”
Of course, the war would drag on, mercilessly, with or without an official surrender. More than 100,000 Iraqis would die and ever-complacent American taxpayers would be left with a tab of $3 trillion or more. From May 1st, 2003, when Bush proclaimed that “major combat operations” were over, until the first anniversary of the invasion the following March, another 6,331 Iraqi civilians would die, according to Iraq Body Count. Civilian casualties would continue to climb to over 30,000 by the third anniversary in March, 2006.
Iraq Body Count co-founder John Sloboda, speaking from London, said the figures were “an indictment of three years of occupation, which continues to make the lives of ordinary Iraqis worse, not better. Talk of civil war is a convenient way for the US and Iraqi authorities to mask the real and continuing core of this conflict, which is between an incompetent and brutal occupying power, on the one hand, and a nationalist insurgency fueled by grief, anger and humiliation on the other. This conflict is proof that violence begets violence. The initial act that sparked this cycle of violence is the illegal US-led invasion of March and April 2003, which resulted in 7,312 civilian deaths and 17,298 injured in a mere 42 days. The insurgency will remain strong so long as the US military remains in Iraq, and ordinary Iraqi people will have more death and destruction to look forward to.”
Criticism of the war and the manner in which it was conducted came from various quarters. In a book published in May, 2004, Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni charged that “everyone in the military knew” that the Bush Administration’s plan for Iraq consisted of only half the troops needed and that the country was “a powder keg” that could soon disintegrate into warring regions. Zinni was a former US commander in the Middle East and briefly served as a special envoy to Bush.
“In the lead-up to the Iraq War and its later conduct, I saw, at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility; at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption,” he wrote. “If there is a center that can hold this mess together, I don’t know what it is.”
In April and again in November of 2004, there would be vicious assaults on the Sunni city of Fallujah in western Iraq. US troops bombed hospitals and other buildings, forced residents out, attacked entire neighborhoods and denied entry to relief workers. At least 100,000 residents were permanently displaced and 10,000 buildings – 70 percent of the city’s structures – destroyed.
When independent American journalist Dahr Jamail visited more than four years later, he reported that unemployment in Fallujah was rampant, the city’s infrastructure remained largely in ruins, and tens of thousands of residents who had fled during the 2004 assaults were still refugees.
Residents fortunate enough to have remained were forced to show a US-issued personal biometric ID card every time they entered or left the city. Local citizens could only obtain the card from US military personnel after their retinas were scanned and their fingerprints obtained. This was the good news.
When Jamail interviewed refugees fleeing Fallujah during the 2004 attack, many of them reported the use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus weapons by the US forces. Speaking on Democracy Now that November, Jamail said refugees described “horribly burned bodies, fires that burn on people … and they are unable to extinguish the fires, even after dumping large amounts of water on the people.”
The following November, Amy Goodman interviewed several people on Democracy Now concerning the use of white phosphorus bombs in Fallujah. The state-owned Italian TV news network, RAI, had just released a documentary it had produced called Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre. Goodman interviewed the RAI news editor, as well as a spokesman for the US military and a former US soldier featured in the documentary.
The film interviewed former soldiers and other eyewitnesses who charged that the US used white phosphorus bombs indiscriminately and against civilian populations in Fallujah. Both former soldiers and a biologist described how the chemical bombs produced a cloud that descended on the city, burning people and animals alike. White phosphorus burns people’s skin, down to the bone, while usually sparing their clothes.
“If you breathe it, it will blister your throat and your lungs until you suffocate, and then it will burn you from the inside,” explained Jeff Englehart, the soldier featured in the film and also interviewed by Goodman. “It basically reacts to skin, oxygen and water. The only way to stop the burning is with wet mud. But at that point, it’s just impossible to stop.”
The RAI news editor pointed out that the US, UK and Italy had all signed the Geneva Convention that prohibits use of chemical weapons. The documentary interviewed Alice Mahon, a member of the Labour Party in Britain who resigned her seat in Parliament in protest over the use of chemical weapons in Iraq. Mahon had demanded information from the UK’s Defense Ministry about whether or not the US had used chemical weapons. The ministry responded that the US had destroyed its arsenal of napalm used in Vietnam but that a bomb called MK-77 was being deployed in Iraq. The bomb does not have the same composition as napalm but has the same destructive effect, the ministry said.
In the documentary, a reporter asked Mahon: Is MK-77 very different from napalm? “No, it isn’t,” she replied. “It has exactly the same effect when it’s fired at people. It burns them. It destroys things. It melts bodies. It’s exactly the same effect. And what, of course – what is in a name if it does this to people? I think the Americans are wrong to use it. I think my government is wrong to help in the cover up of it being used. But, of course, in this war we’ve seen the United Nations Charter broken and defied over and over again.”
Over and over again. More atrocities. More “war crimes,” as if war itself isn’t a sufficient crime. In November, 2005, a year after the savage seize of Fallujah, there was the massacre at Haditha, a small town northwest of Baghdad.
A roadside bomb had hit a Humvee carrying US troops and one Marine was killed; two others were injured. The Marines initially claimed that 15 Iraqi civilians had died in the bomb blast. Later it became apparent, according to accounts by eyewitnesses and a Time reporter, that the Iraqi men, women and children died when soldiers burst into their homes and shot them in their nightclothes.
In one house, Marines threw a grenade into a kitchen, setting off a propane tank that nearly destroyed the kitchen and killed several people. In another house, a nine-year-old girl survived but her parents, grandparents and other relatives were killed. In all, about 19 people were killed in their homes and four more outdoors. They ranged from adult males and females to small infants, according to a Marine not involved in the killings.
Not too long after, there was another massacre in the town of Ishaqi, north of Baghdad. The initial military account was that US troops had showed up at a house, gotten into a shoot-out while trying to get in, and that the house collapsed during the attack. In the version of events later revealed by a Knight Ridder reporter, the soldiers entered the house, herded the eleven occupants into one room, executed them, and then blew up the house. The victims ranged from a 75-year-old woman to a six-month-old child, and included two three-year-olds, two five-year-olds, and three other women. They had all been lined up against a wall, handcuffed, and shot in the head and chest.
This is US tax dollars at work, giving us a bang for our buck.
Dahr Jamail, one of the few independent and unembedded journalists to report from Iraq, said that there were countless My Lai massacres in Iraq. Speaking on Democracy Now in 2006, Jamail said that events like Haditha happened “on almost a daily basis on one level or another.”
If my memory is reliable, it seems that there were many American citizens who expressed outrage when they heard about My Lai. This did not seem to be the case with Iraq. Is it possible that all the wars since Vietnam have served to anesthetize US citizens against any feelings of moral outrage? Perhaps it is difficult to feel outrage about even the most heinous massacre when you know it is just one more incident in what is now an endless war.
Writing in the National Catholic Reporter in early 2004, Jesuit priest and humanities professor Raymond Schroth recalled how the US used cluster bombs during the war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The bombs were timed to explode high enough above ground so as “to scatter thousands of tiny, razor-like pellets or needles over an area the size of two football fields.”
Thanks to American ingenuity and generous taxpayers, we now have a broader variety of cluster bombs, some of which contain baby “bomblets, delivered by planes and artillery fire and capable of spreading death and havoc over large areas.” Schroth noted that USA Today conducted a four-month investigation, interviewing Iraqi civilians and US troops. The newspaper found that US forces had used nearly 10,800 cluster weapons and the British almost 2,200 in the early stages of the occupation. These weapons killed an estimated 372 civilians.
A Human Rights Watch report concluded that thousands of civilians were killed in the first three weeks of the war, most from cluster weapons and air attacks targeting senior Iraqi leaders. The rights organization noted that US forces bombed densely populated neighborhoods 50 times in an attempt to kill a single Iraqi leader. In every case, the target individual was not there but, in the four strikes researched by Human Rights Watch, 42 civilians were killed and dozens more injured.
In another incident in early April, 2003, the Pentagon got a tip that Saddam Hussein might be in a house in a residential district of Baghdad and 45 minutes later several houses and the target al Saa restaurant were flattened with four 2,000-pound bombs. A mother found her daughter’s torso and then her severed head. Eighteen innocent civilians were killed. US “intelligence” later confirmed that Hussein was not there.
The war in Iraq was not just a war against civilians and a war against children. It was also a war against the future generations. Saddam never had any weapons of mass destruction but the US used its weapons of mass destruction to ensure that even future generations were not spared.
Felicity Arbuthnot, a London-based journalist writing in August, 2013, detailed how white phosphorous, depleted uranium and enriched uranium weapons were poisoning the newly born in Iraq, the ones not killed in the Clinton genocide of the previous decade.
Her article, published in Global Research, a nonprofit media center based in Montreal, began with the case of Humam, a baby born in Fallujah. Humam was born with various diseases and abnormalities with long unpronounceable names that no infant should have to bear. These included: congenital heart disease; an abnormality that develops as the fetus is forming, resulting in abdominal organs protruding through an opening in the abdominal muscles near the umbilical cord; and extra digits on the hands and feet.
Arbuthnot referenced Dr. Chris Busby, a professor in Biomedical Sciences who had served on the UK Ministry of Defence Oversight Committee on Depleted Uranium and made extensive studies in Fallujah. Busby tested parents of children with congenital anomalies and also studied surface soils, river water and drinking water. “The only substance we found that could explain the high levels of genetic damage was the radioactive element uranium,” Busby said.
“Much has been made of the use of depleted uranium (DU) in Iraq in 1991 and the subsequent decade-plus illegal bombing of the country by the US and UK, then the 2003 and subsequent onslaughts,” Arbuthnot noted, but this is where it gets more complicated.
She quotes Busby: “Astonishingly, it was not depleted uranium. It was slightly enriched uranium, the kind that is used in nuclear reactors or atomic bombs. We found it in the hair and also in the soil. We concentrated the soil chemically so there could be no mistake. Results showed slightly enriched uranium, manmade.”
Busby posits a clear connection between childhood cancers and deformities and the uranium weapons used in the bombardment of Fallujah in 2004. He explained that uranium is excreted into hair and, knowing the rate at which hair grows, they could trace the levels of uranium back to 2005.
“These results prove the existence of a new secret uranium weapon,” Busby said. “We have found some US patents for thermobaric and directed charge warheads which employ uranium … to increase their effect.” His team also investigated bomb craters in Lebanon in 2006 after Israeli attacks and found one that was radioactive and containing enriched uranium. They also found enriched uranium in car air filters in Lebanon and Gaza. Others had found evidence of its use in Afghanistan and possibly in the Balkans.
“An astonishing discovery with many global implications,” Busby said. “It is clear that the military has a secret uranium weapon of some sort. It causes widespread and terrifying genetic defects, causing cancer and birth anomalies and poisoning the gene pool of whole populations. This is a war crime and must be properly investigated.”
Busby’s team also found infant mortality in eighty of every thousand births in Fallujah, compared to seventeen in neighboring Jordan.
The distinguished British journalist Robert Fisk, a longtime Middle East correspondent, reported on a visit to Fallujah in 2012:
“The pictures flash up on a screen on an upper floor of the Fallujah General Hospital. And all at once, Nadhem Shokr al-Hadidi’s administrative office becomes a little chamber of horrors. A baby with a hugely deformed mouth. A child with a defect of the spinal cord, material from the spine outside the body. A baby with a terrible, vast Cyclopean eye. Another baby with only half a head, stillborn like the rest … a tiny child with half a right arm, no left leg, no genitalia … a dead baby with just one leg and a head four times the size of its body.”
A report sent to the UN General Assembly by Dr. Nawal Majeed Al-Sammarai, Iraq’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, stated that in September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 babies born, 75 percent of whom were deformed. A quarter of them died within their first week of life.
The rising rate of congenital heart defects, abnormalities, stillbirths and premature births was “an Iraq-wide phenomenon” since the 1991 bombings, Arbuthnot pointed out. She quoted Dr. Sundus Nsaif from the southern holy city of Najav: “After the start of the Iraq war, rates of cancer, leukemia and birth defects rose dramatically. The areas affected by American attacks saw the biggest increases … When you visit the hospital here, you see that cancer is more common than the flu.” In Basra, it was reported that birth defects increased seventeen fold in under a decade after the 2003 invasion.
A Tokyo-based international human rights organization, Human Rights Now (HRN), conducted an investigation in 2013 concerning the congenital birth defect epidemic in Iraq. The group released documentation and photographs of over 70 recent cases of birth defects in Fallujah. HRN called on the US, UK and UN to disclose information about the toxic weapons used in the conflict, and called on the Iraqi government to form an independent commission to investigate the health crisis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and Iraq’s Ministry of Health were supposed to release a report on Iraq cancers and birth defects in late 2012, but the release was delayed several times. The two former UN officials, Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, charged that information was being suppressed, possibly due to pressure from the US.
Von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General, said: “I served in Baghdad and was confronted with the reality of the environmental impact of DU. In 2001, I saw in Geneva how a WHO mission to conduct on-spot assessments in Basra and southern Iraq, where depleted uranium had led to devastating environmental health problems, was aborted under US political pressure. It would not be surprising if such US pressure has continued.
When the document was finally published, many observers criticized it for lack of scientific credibility. Dr. Keith Baverstock, a retired WHO expert on radiation and health from Finland noted that the study did not even attempt to review medical records in Iraqi hospitals. “The way this document was produced is extremely suspicious,” Baverstock was quoted as saying in The Guardian. In 2001, Baverstock had sat on an editorial board for a WHO research project that cleared the US and UK of responsibility for environmental health hazards relating to DU deployment. He had pressed to include new research in the report indicating that uranium was a genotoxin (capable of changing DNA).
“My editorial changes were suppressed, even though some of the research was from Department of Defense studies looking at subjects who had ingested DU from friendly fire, clearly proving that DU was genotoxic,” Baverstock said.
▪ ▪ ▪
Bush and his neoconservative cronies harbored lofty ambitions that they would reshape not just Iraq but the entire Mideast. I guess it could be argued that they succeeded, though probably not in the way they had imagined.
Perhaps more than any other war in recent history, the war in Iraq transformed an entire region of the world for the worse, bringing turmoil and tragedy to many countries and millions of people. It was another in a long list of military adventures in which the US lost and no one gained.
It was eleven years ago that Chris Hedges wrote an essay, still relevant today, in which he described the chaos that was Iraq and predicted the disastrous future that awaited the country and the region. Hedges, a former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, spent seven years in the Middle East, as well as time in many other war zones. He was part of the paper’s team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of global terrorism. I will end with excerpts from his essay.
“Iraq no longer exists as a unified country,” Hedges wrote in August, 2007. “The experiment that was Iraq, the cobbling together of disparate and antagonistic patches of the Ottoman Empire by the victorious powers in the wake of World War I, belongs to the history books. It will never come back.
“There are two million Iraqis who have fled their homes and are internally displaced,” he wrote. “Another two million have left the country, most to Syria and Jordan, which now has the largest number of refugees per capita of any country on Earth. An Oxfam report estimates that one in three Iraqis is in need of emergency aid, but the chaos and violence is so widespread that assistance is impossible … The American occupation forces are one more source of terror tossed into the caldron of suicide bombings, mercenary armies, militias, massive explosions, ambushes, kidnappings and mass executions.
“It was not supposed to turn out like this,” he continued. “Remember all those visions of a democratic Iraq, visions peddled by the White House and fatuous pundits like Thomas Friedman and the gravel-voiced morons who pollute our airwaves on CNN and Fox News? They assured us that the war would be a cakewalk. We would be greeted as liberators. Democracy would seep out over the borders of Iraq to usher in a new Middle East. Now, struggling to salvage their own credibility, they blame the debacle on poor planning and mismanagement …
“Anyone who had spent significant time in Iraq knew this would not work. The war was not doomed because Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz did not do sufficient planning for the occupation. The war was doomed, period. It never had a chance.
“This is not to deny the stupidity of the occupation. The disbanding of the Iraqi army; the ham-fisted attempt to install the crook and, it now turns out, Iranian spy Ahmed Chalabi in power; the firing of all Baathist public officials, including university professors, primary school teachers, nurses and doctors; the failure to secure Baghdad and the vast weapons depots from looters; allowing heavily armed American units to blast their way through densely populated neighborhoods, giving the insurgency its most potent recruiting tool–all ensured a swift descent into chaos. But Iraq would not have held together even if we had been spared the gross incompetence of the Bush administration. Saddam Hussein, like the more benign dictator Josip Broz Tito in the former Yugoslavia, understood that the glue that held the country together was the secret police …
“The possibility that Iraq will become a Shiite state, run by clerics allied with Iran, terrifies the Arab world. Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel, would most likely keep the conflict going by arming Sunni militias. This anarchy could end with foreign forces, including Iran and Turkey, carving up the battered carcass of Iraq. No matter what happens, many, many Iraqis are going to die. And it is our fault.
“The neoconservatives–and the liberal interventionists, who still serve as the neocons’ useful idiots when it comes to Iran–have learned nothing. They talk about hitting Iran and maybe even Pakistan with airstrikes. Strikes on Iran would ensure a regional conflict. Such an action has the potential of drawing Israel into war–especially if Iran retaliates for any airstrikes by hitting Israel, as I would expect Tehran to do. There are still many in the US who cling to the doctrine of pre-emptive war, a doctrine that the post-World War II Nuremberg laws define as a criminal “war of aggression.”
“The occupation of Iraq, along with the Afghanistan occupation, has only furthered the spread of failed states and increased authoritarianism, savage violence, instability and anarchy. It has swelled the ranks of our real enemies–the Islamic terrorists–and opened up voids of lawlessness where they can operate and plot against us. It has scuttled the art of diplomacy. It has left us an outlaw state intent on creating more outlaw states. It has empowered Iran, as well as Russia and China, which sit on the sidelines gleefully watching our self-immolation. This is what George W. Bush and all those “reluctant hawks” who supported him have bequeathed us.
“What is terrifying is not that the architects and numerous apologists of the Iraq war have learned nothing, but that they may not yet be finished.”
· · ·
Next time: Addicted to War / What Can We Do About It?